According to the International Society of Arboriculture, tree ordinances are among the tools used by communities striving to attain a healthy, vigorous, and well-managed community forest. Many cities like Charlotte NC, Atlanta and Los Angeles have successfully adopted tree ordinances as a way to mitigate canopy loss and preserve trees. Louisville’s current tree ordinance is just a few sentences, and the mayor’s old tree advisory commission found Louisville lagged behind other cities in having a framework for managing its urban tree canopy.
On December 5, 2016, Metro Councilmembers Bill Hollander (D-9) and Cheri Bryant-Hamilton (D-5) introduced a newly proposed ordinance relating to Louisville Metro public trees. While the majority of the ordinance already exists under current law, the new ordinance seeks to re-establish a tree advisory committee, restrict the types of trees that can be planted under utility lines to avoid the potential for damage, and enforce that any tree removed from the public right of way be replaced within a year.
We would like to emphasize that the ordinance only pertains to street trees (i.e. trees in the public right of way) and has no jurisdiction over trees planted on private land. We strongly support the approval of the proposed tree ordinance in Louisville as we believe it will be a significant step in working to preserve and replenish our diminishing tree canopy.
What is a “public tree”? (And what is a right-of-way?)
A tree located on Louisville Metro Government-owned property or in public rights-of-way, excluding property under the jurisdiction of Louisville Metro Parks.
A right of way is generally considered the space between the road and the sidewalk.
What NEW requirements would apply to trees on private property?
None. Property owners could voluntarily protect historic and specimen trees on private property. The only other provision regarding private property trees — dealing with public nuisances — is already included in the Property Maintenance Code. One purpose of the new ordinance is to consolidate existing tree regulations.
What NEW requirements are placed on those responsible for maintaining trees in the public rights-of-way?
Under current Metro ordinances, property owners already have the responsibility for maintenance of trees in the public rights of way, including removal of dead or decaying trees. Existing ordinances also currently require the property owner to obtain a permit from Metro prior to trimming, cutting or removing a tree within the public right of way. The only new responsibility under the proposed ordinance is that any tree removal permit will also include a requirement to replace the tree, within one year, absent a waiver. Under current Land Development Code requirements, property owners whose property is subject to an approved development plan or landscape plan are already required to permanently maintain trees and other landscaping shown on the approved plan.
Why require planting a tree when one is removed?
We are losing tree canopy coverage in Louisville Metro. An average of 54,000 trees have been lost per year from 2004-2012. Replacing a removed tree in a public space or right of way is a commonsense way to stem the tree canopy losses.
What happens when low-income property owners cannot afford to plant a new tree?
Existing law provides that tree maintenance is the responsibility of the property owner. Planting a new tree is much less expensive than the existing removal requirements. The proposed ordinance would create a Community Forestry Escrow Fund which would establish and maintain a landowner assistance program. The fund would receive more assistance to low-income landowners than is currently available for maintenance, removal and planting.
Does the ordinance create a new unelected commission with regulatory authority?
No. The ordinance previously proposed by the Tree Advisory Commission had recommended that a commission be created. The ordinance introduced on December 5 creates an advisory committee only.
Answers kindly provided by the Office of Council Representative Bill Hollander.